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Archive for the ‘Speed Racer’ Category

And There’s Daaaangerous Work To Do

April 18th, 2008 No comments

The only recurring villains to bedevil Speed Racer were the members of the Car Acrobatic Team, who also had the distinction of appearing in the sole three-part story of the series, “The Most Dangerous Race.” Each driver sported a uniform marked with a letter of the alphabet, and their cars deployed tiny wings to aid them in performing wild, mid-air pirouettes.

They were also stackable.

Their leader was Captain Terror, who wore the letter “Z” for “zesty.” One look and it was easy to see why he wasn’t called “Captain Snuggles.”

Captain Terror hurried to the dentist for a deep gum cleaning.

Aside from Cap’n Z (affectionately known as “Ol’ Smiley”), the other Car Acrobat of note was Snake Oiler, who was assigned the letter “S” because he loved sandwiches. He was kind of a tool.

Speed insisted upon entering the Alpine Race despite the warnings of Racer X, and indeed found it to be a most dangerous race. The grueling, three-day course traversed icy tunnels and 1,000 foot drops; many drivers were killed attempting to jump Yawning Chasm Pass.

Speed himself failed to reach the other side, and was temporarily blinded in the crash. Somehow the Mach 5 was still drivable, and Speed located it by the smell of its oil. Racer X then showed up, determined to let Speed finish the race without realizing he was being helped.

Now, any reasonable people might’ve realized the futility of attempting to drive over a treacherous mountain course while blind, but reason was in short supply at the Racer household. Racer X’s solution: to drive his own car and allow Speed to follow in the Mach 5 by listening for the distinctive sound of the Shooting Star’s engine. Surprisingly, this didn’t quite work.

When Speed became stuck in the mud, the Masked Racer faked a crash and pretended to be injured so that he could provide the eyes while Speed provided the legs. Amazingly, the pair managed to catch up to the sole remaining racer, Snake Oiler. Unknown to him, Snake’s car had sprung a bad oil leak, and he ignored the warnings of Speed and Racer X.

And by now you should know what that meant.

Snake didn’t die, but was badly injured and carried off the course by Captain Terror, who vowed revenge. That didn’t occur until the next-to-last episode of the series, when the surviving Car Acrobats (who didn’t appear to include Oiler) challenged Speed to a final race. However, it turned out that all of them were being set up by International Spies, Incorporated, who planned to kill both Speed and Racer X by wiring the Car Acrobatic Team’s vehicles to explode. In the end, Speed teamed up with Captain Terror and blew up the spies’ headquarters by parking the rigged cars nearby.

Snake Oiler is featured prominently in both the merchandising and advertising for the upcoming film. I’m not certain whether the rest of his team will join him, but it looks like pretty much everyone is a car acrobat in this one.

Meet The Racers

April 17th, 2008 No comments

Before I delve any further into the world of Speed Racer, I want to acknowledge my primary information sources:

  • Speed Racer: The Official 30th Anniversary Guide by Elizabeth Moran, published 1997 by Hyperion. It’s a handy reference guide, though I’m finding that its spellings of character names aren’t necessarily accurate.
  • Speed Racer, an unofficial but highly informative website that gets much deeper into the series than I intend to do myself.

Now that we’ve met some of Speed’s rivals and foes, let’s look in on his family and friends.

One thing you may not have known about the Racer clan is that they really weren’t named “Racer” at all, at least not in Japan. Speed’s original name was Goh Mifune, with “Goh” intended as a bilingual pun on both the English word “go” and the Japanese word for “five,” as in “Mach 5.” (The series’ Japanese title was Mach Go Go Go, making clever use of all three meanings.) The embroidered “G” on Speed’s shirt referred to his Japanese name, and the big “M” on the Mach 5 was for Mifune Motors.

Pops Racer is seen above in his natural state: shouting. It was his stubborn belligerence which caused his son Rex to take to masked vigilantism, and it initially caused a rift between him and Speed when the latter wanted to follow in his brother’s tire tracks.

Before he became a race car designer/builder, Pops was a champion wrestler. Woe to the unfortunate thug on the receiving end of Pops’ moves.

Trixie (whose embroidered letter “M” stands for her Japanese name Michi) was Speed’s girlfriend. Her favorite outfit involved a pink, shapeless blouse which appeared to be a potato sack tied at the shoulders. I believe that Trixie’s lack of sartorial confidence may have explained why she became fiercely jealous every time a pretty girl showed up.

On the other hand, Trixie owned her own helicopter, which was useful when Speed needed an eye in the sky. She was also good in a fight. Still, too bad about the potato sack.

The youngest member of the Racers was Spritle, whose bottomless pit of an appetite served a sugar-fueled penchant for mischief that quite often got Speed out of a mess. His constant companion was the family monkey Chim-Chim.

It still nags me: why did they dress their youngest son and their monkey in the same outfit?

Spritle and Chim-Chim had a habit of hiding in the trunk of the Mach 5, in complete violation of both child restraint laws and inertia. When Speed’s back was against the wall, they provided valuable support.

Such as recruiting a squad of rock-throwing monkeys.

There’s not much to say about the final two members of the team. Sparky fixed the car. Mom Racer baked cookies.

Mom Racer will be played by Susan Sarandon in the movie, and she can bake my cookies any time.

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He’s Gaining On You So You’d Better Look Alive

April 16th, 2008 No comments

I was jazzed that the most recent Speed Racer trailer included a nod to my favorite installment of the cartoon series, a two-parter called “Race Against the Mammoth Car.” While the truck-sized vehicle attacking Racer X in the trailer is considerably less mammoth than the true Mammoth Car, it’s obviously inspired by the original.

“Sieg heil, Mammoth Car!”

The Mammoth Car was one of the entrants in the “No Limit World Race,” and its team took the “no limit” thing to heart. Essentially a truck cab pulling ten trailers, it dwarfed the other vehicles.

Before the race could begin, however, the drivers were paid a visit by Inspector Detector (seen below). I was never certain whether “Inspector Detector” was his title, or whether Mr. and Mrs. Detector urged him to enter the field of law enforcement.

Inspector Detector’s razor-sharp beard was a vital weapon in his one-man war on international crime.

The police had arrived because $50 million in gold bars had recently been stolen, and it was believed that one of the race cars would be used to smuggle it out of the country. Inexplicably, suspicion immediately fell upon the Mammoth Car and its owner, gangster Cruncher Block (below, left). Yet a tour of the car revealed no sign of the gold, and so the race got underway.

Needless to say, it wasn’t long before the Mammoth Car began smashing its competition. This is Speed Racer, after all, and fiery death wasn’t going to cause itself. Soon, Speed himself became the target of the juggernaut after he attempted to take x-ray photos of its interior with his homing robot. Encircling the Mach 5, the behemoth belched submachine gun fire from its previously hidden gunports.

Speed survived the fusillade and raced the Mammoth Car to a dead heat at the finish line. However, the monster failed to stop and continued at breakneck speed toward the pier. The chase ended in a fiery crash (what else?) as it collided with a fuel tank. And that’s when we learned that the Mammoth Car wasn’t carrying the stolen gold…it was the gold.

And as Cruncher’s car melted into a goopy mass, absolutely no one stopped to ponder the cost of engineering a 200-yard-long truck made of solid gold, but that’s exactly as it should’ve been.

Racer X Is Secretly Speed’s Older Brother Rex, Who Ran Away From Home Years Ago

April 15th, 2008 No comments

Speed’s greatest rival throughout the series was the Masked Racer, aka Racer X. This enigmatic figure was initially viewed as a jinx, despite his obvious talent, and other drivers feared the arrival of his car, the Shooting Star. Racer X was both an adversary and ally during many of Speed’s adventures.

“You paid how much for your car insurance?”

What Speed didn’t know–but we did, thanks to the narrator’s frequent reminders–was that the Masked Racer was “secretly Speed’s older brother Rex, who ran away from home years ago.” When Pops Racer forbade him from further racing after a fiery crash, Rex hit the road.

Mentored by the famous Kapetepekan driver Kabala (about whom there’ll be more in a future post), Rex became a whiz behind the wheel and adopted a disguise to avoid Pops’ ire while keeping an eye on his brother.

The relationship between Rex and Speed was one that dared not speak its name.

Eventually, Racer X became a secret agent, using his globe-hopping career as a cover for his clandestine activities, saving the world from the likes of “International Spies, Incorporated.” But just before he retired from the circuit to be a full-time spy, Speed finally confronted him about his true identity.

This is Vic’s favorite scene from Speed Racer. You’re welcome, Vic.

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And When The Odds Are Against Him

April 15th, 2008 No comments

Villainous drivers raised their ugly mugs in Speed’s very first professional competition, the Sword Mountain Race. Granted, they were a bit underwhelming compared with the baddies to come.

Speed’s original rival was Skull Duggery (get used to the pun names; there’ll be more), a garden variety racer with a mean streak. Despite deliberately causing several apparently fatal crashes during the Sword Mountain Race, Speed decided to save Duggery when the latter took an unfortunate shortcut past an active volcano. (You’d think they’d mark those on the map.)

Skull and Speed (which sounds like the title of a biker magazine) finished the race on more or less friendly terms. Despite the vehicular manslaughter.

Just another day at the races.

Rating a bit higher on the Evil-O-Meter were Mr. van Ruffle (below, left) and Ace Deucey (below, center). Ace was hired by van Ruffle for “5,000 clams” to steal the plans of the Mach 5. The mercenary later learned that Speed’s father, Pops Racer (yes, really), wrote the plans in invisible ink on the car’s windshield. That may sound unlikely, but it’s actually quite common in the racing industry: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has the Colonel’s Secret Recipe inscribed on his rear window.

It should go without saying that Deucey entered his own evil racing team into the Sword Mountain challenge and carved up the competition with Ben Hur-inspired tire cutters. He was thwarted when Speed shattered the valuable windshield with his helmet.

Next: Racer X!

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Speedy Delivery

April 14th, 2008 No comments

Here’s a YouTube video of the most recent international trailer for Speed Racer, which includes what looks to be the Mammoth Car launching a missile barrage at Racer X!

That tiny video doesn’t do it justice, so go to the official site, click on “trailers,” then pick the one marked “international trailer” on the far left to see it in full 1080 HD awesomeness!

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He’s Busy Revving Up The Powerful Mach 5!

April 14th, 2008 No comments

No discussion of Speed Racer could be complete, or even begin, without a close-up look at the Mach 5, the real ultimate driving machine. (Does a BMW come with rotary saws? I think not.)

While its slick, futuristic styling certain appealed to young viewers, what really fired our imaginations was that steering wheel with those mysterious, lettered buttons. The only time we ever got a full rundown on their functions was at the start of the second episode of the series.

Control A activated the Auto Jacks. As the name implied, they were originally intended to lift the Mach 5 so that Sparky, the Racer family’s mechanic (seen above) could quickly make repairs. More commonly, however, they were used to jump over things: other cars, lava flows and bottomless chasms.

Control B was for the grip tires, a set of belts that wrapped around the wheels for extra traction. Meanwhile, auxiliary engines provided an additional 5,000 horsepower.

Control C caused a pair of rotary saws to extend from the front of the car. Intended to clear obstacles, they could also be deployed as anti-vehicular weapons. Mostly, they were used to cut trees.

Even back in the day, I found it just a little hard to swallow that the Mach 5 could tear through a forest at 200 MPH as if the trees weren’t there. Even if they magically fell to the side in time, there were still all those stumps. Must’ve played hell with the shocks.

Control D activated a deflector bubble straight out of James Bond’s Q Branch. Airtight and impervious to bullets, it was good to have just in case someone had a submachine gun. Which they usually did.

Control E turned on special headlights which could independently swivel, and which provided night vision when used with Speed’s driving helmet.

Control F was used when the Mach 5 was underwater, which happened more often than you might think. An oxygen supply fed the watertight bubble, while a periscope extended to the surface. A dashboard TV screen allowed Speed to view above water. I don’t believe it came with Mapquest.

Control G launched a homing robot from the Mach 5’s hood. In the days before cell phones, it was used to carry messages and even small objects to the Racer family.

An additional control panel near the gearshift then opened. A small joystick could steer the pigeon-shaped device if, for example, one wanted to disarm someone carrying a submachine gun. It also revealed Control H, which automatically sent the robot home.

Now, perhaps it’s just me, but as an adult I can see at least one small flaw in this control scheme. The big, central button–the one that’s easiest to find and press in a split-second emergency–isn’t for the auto jacks, which Speed used pretty much all the time, but rather for the damned homing robot. I can imagine that there were many instances of premature ejection.

So, there you have it, the Mach 5! Stay tuned for more vehicular insanity!

Here He Comes…

April 14th, 2008 No comments

This is a huge summer for geek-friendly films: Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, The X-Files, Hellboy II, Get Smart, The Dark Knight, not to mention an animated Star Wars release and the long-awaited return of a certain Mr. Jones.

I expect to see ’em all, but the only one I’m really hyped about?

Speed Racer. No shit.

Understand that among my many geek loves, Speed Racer is one of the earliest, second only to dinosaurs. It was the show that made me want to run home after elementary school.

It was also the show that forever ruined real-life motorsports for me. Who wants to see cars roaring around and around an oval when they could be racing through mountain ranges and active volcanoes? And who cares about a Nascar wipeout when you could witness a wreck like this?

Ain’t no one walking away from that one. And that was in the opening titles.

Unlike later, defanged cartoons in which the bad guys parachuted to safety or were robots who could be killed without icky moral qualms, fiery, human death was a frequent visitor in the world of Speed Racer. So many racers met apparently fatal ends in a typical event that it’s a wonder there were enough professional drivers left to provide competition for Speed and his rivals.

No one was safe. Certainly not the spectators.

I believe that was Clark Kent wetting himself in the front row.

And it wasn’t just the races that were dangerous. Unlike most Formula One drivers, Speed devoted much of his free time to battling international spies, assassins, gangsters and mad scientists. Submachine guns were their weapons of choice, though they weren’t adverse to employing Mizmo Rays or flying, dragon-shaped submarines. Here are a couple of mug shots of the stone cold villains that gave Speed grief.

These guys would bitch-slap the Mystery Machine gang into next week.

As the release of the Speed Racer film approaches (May 9), watch this space for future posts about the original cartoon. I’ll be introducing the cars and their drivers in order to get you up to (er) speed.

Oh, and there will be monkeys.

Don’t Forget To Check The Trunk For Children And Monkeys

December 7th, 2007 No comments

This could be very cool or very, very awful: the Wachowski brothers (the guys who brought us The Matrix, for better and worse) are doing a film adaptation of my all-time favorite cartoon series, Speed Racer. USA Today has posted the first production photos, and I’m guardedly optimistic about them.

This is one of those films shot mostly in front of greenscreens (ala 300 and Sky Captain), and if the photos are any indication, the Wachowskis appear to be going for a gaudy hyper-reality. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; what I liked most about the cartoon was its excess.

In the world of Speed Racer, it wasn’t enough to have a cross-country road race. The course had to involve bottomless chasms, active volcanoes, or be at least partially-underwater for it to be worthy of the Mach 5. It was a given that all but a handful of racers would die in horrible, fiery wrecks, and that Speed would win the day by tearing through the pack in the last few seconds before the finish line. Speed Racer ruined real race cars for me; who wants to see cars maneuvering politely around a flat oval?

Certainly, it’s only now that this gravity-defying speedway insanity can be properly depicted in live action. If there’s at least one scene in which the Mach 5 rips through a forest at 150 mph tearing trees to shreds with its rotary cutters, I’m there.

Plus (and this is why Vic will be there with me), it has a monkey in the trunk.

Update: And here’s the trailer! Fuck, yeah!

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